Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Final Posting

Are you reopening the Daily BR?

Only for today. I thought I would clarify the air as I did not realise I had a cause a little stir in Brunei's blogging community. I haven't had time to read other people's blogs since I came back last Sunday so I don't really know what the undercurrent was. It was when I had lunch this afternoon with one of my avid readers that I realised the extent of the uncertainty. He was under the impression that I stopped because I was asked to. The answer to that is no. I stopped because I wanted to.

Why stop the Daily BR?

It has been my intention to stop the Daily BR for quite sometime now. The Daily BR started as nothing more than a bulletin board introducing new articles and items for my main website It was never meant to be a proper blog. However over time, I found it easier to write new articles on the blog rather than on the main website. As the Daily BR is updated daily, interests grew until it gained a life of its own but going back to its original root, it was not meant to be a proper blog.

The daily entries, require a certain amount of readings and work and over time I just ran out of the extra time that I used to have. Besides my very busy daily schedule plus I do do other things - family commitments, writing professionally (newspaper articles, books etc), golf, gym and lately photography. There are only 24 hours in a day. There are many more articles that can be written - there are many things about our beloved country but bottom line I no longer have the time. There are other factors too - I noticed that people are getting tired (number of visitors dropping - ironically on the day I stopped, it was the highest of the last 3 months), the earlier friendlier visitors are no longer there, I get the sense that people do not appreciate it that much anymore, people read it because of my official position (I write in my personal capacity though admittedly it's hard to separate that), and personally to me writing becomes a chore - the fun is gone.

When did you decide to stop?

I did not really decide when the right date was going to be. I tried to keep myself excited and keep the blogsite going by changing the layouts, put music on and everything but eventually I realised that was just prolonging the agony. I could not possibly postpone it forever. Finally, on the long flight back from Japan, I thought of all the pros and cons and I thought I will just end it the moment I am back in Brunei which was on Sunday, 15th April 2007. And that's what I just did. No fanfare, no nothing. And for the first time this week, I had no pressure of what tomorrow's topic will be.

Many people have relied on it and will miss their daily reads. Will you be addressing that?

*smile* Sorry. I don't think I can answer that. I am sure with the number of Brunei bloggers - very good ones too - the Daily BR can easily be replaced. We just need someone who will be dedicated enough to write daily and to read daily. It's not difficult. Of course, whatever I have written remains there and people can refer to it. I do write articles on a weekly basis for The Brunei Times under a column entitled 'The Golden Legacy'. People can read that too.

Will you be making a comeback?

Not as a Daily BR. In fact, I started a new one immediately after closing down the Daily BR. But this time, it will remain more a private journal and more focused rather than trying to write about the whole of Brunei. Though in some sense it will be a little bit like the Daily BR. I guess once a blogger, always a blogger.

Any last words?

Thanks to everyone for all your support. Thanks especially to the three big blogging names - Rano, Maurina and LSM who all played a part in the development of the Daily BR in the early days. Especially Rano for making the Daily BR a national sensation with his plugs during its early days. To everyone, keep on writing the good stuffs. Thanks for your company and your support. I enjoyed it.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

World War II in Brunei

Nothing much for my final posting. Just the final set of photographs depicting scenes of destruction in Brunei during the Second World War as I promised about a week ago. The first photograph is the scene of destruction in the Seria Oilfields. The others are scenes from Brunei Town and Brunei District. These are just to remind us just how much progress we have made since then.

Thank you to everyone for your support throughout the last 2 years. It has been an exhausting two years and it's time to pack up and concentrate on work, my writings (published ones) and continue to maintain my main website at which I have neglected. Thank you for all the nice and wonderful comments - I enjoyed those. The critical ones too, I thank you too. They make me think. For those who wonder what will happen to the more useful postings here, do not worry. They will be uploaded as proper articles on the main website (when I get round to it). On that note, thank you and good bye.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Brunei Japan Partnership by RB

Mr. BR's entry on the protests against the Chinese Premier in Tokyo reminded me of another post when he was in Korea last year when Koreans were protesting against the Korea-USA FTA (Free Trade Area). Korea then only had one FTA with Chile, compared to us Brunei which has 8. I understand that Brunei is now in negotiation with Japan for a Brunei-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (BJEPA) even though not called FTA but it is still an FTA. Last month was the fourth round of negotiations, but I don't see much of it being discussed in the national press. In Korea, the farmers come out, and rightly or wrongly, protested against it as they know what the implications are. Bruneians, on the other hand are, well....

I am not going to talk about FTAs, you can link that to Mr. BR's previous post which also has links to other useful sites. An FTA is supposedly good as it allows a country to specialise in any product of which it has comparative advantage (open your Economic textbook) and theoretically everyone living in that FTA area will beneftit. However as the Koreans protests indicated, individual economic sectors do get affected - some gain and some lose and those who lose do not like it.

What do we gain by having a BJEPA? The Brunei consumers will gain by having lots of cheaper import from Japan including cheaper cars and auto parts, electrical and electronic items. But if this goes ahead, Brunei government will lose revenues as there will be reduced collection of import duty from Japanese goods. For other countries, for example Malaysia, this would be fine as their Malaysian made cars maybe cheaper and can be exported to Japan. How about Brunei made cars? Oh, I forgot, we don't have a car industry or any other substantive industry for that matter for us to export to Japan.

Hang on, I hear you ask - we might gain by having our products such as agricultural products being exported to Japan with lower or no tariffs. Like what? Hmmmm. Oh yes, shrimps and mangoes and.......... er, Labi oranges, maybe keropoks. What else? Oh yes. The possibility of greater opportunity access to Japanese markets. *suppressed laughter* And the possibility of Brunei's industries developing due to better comparative advantage and can now export to Japan. *more suppressed laughter* Oh boy. I sure do hope someone in Brunei will take advantage of this.

Being an energy dependent country Japan would like to secure all its energy. Brunei being an energy producer country would be able to sell all its energy. Even though I am not privy to the agreement, I betcha there will be a clause in there that says 'guaranteed supply'. I sure hope that the 'guarantee' is within our energy production capability. I am not being sceptical. What I need is someone to tell me the value of the advantages or disadvantages of this agreement. Maybe then I will be convinced.

PS. Today's post is written by someone called RB who worries about which direction we are heading.
PPS. To the few who know what we are doing, by the time you read this, we are on our way back to the Kingdom of Unexpected Treasures. All the delegation are on cloud 9 or Cloud 40,000 as that's where we are physically and emotionally after a two day tough negotiation session. We walked in expecting not much and walked out getting what we wanted.

Bahasa Melayu Bahasa Orang Brunei

Tak hendak seribu daleh, hendak seribu jalan. Bila terlalu banyak masa, terutamanya di waktu malam, apabila kesunyian di Kota Tokyo ini, banyaklah ilham yang didapati dan banyak juga perkara yang boleh dilakukan. Saya masih ingat satu pesanan yang telah dimasukan ke dalam kotak 'the shout box' yang menekankan bagi Bahasa Melayu untuk dipromosikan dan digunakan.

Khusus untuk hari ini dan mungkin juga di hari-hari yang lain, saya akan cuba menulis catatan harian ini dalam Bahasa Melayu yang rasmi. Sebagai Bangsa Melayu Brunei, kita sepatutnya lebih mengutamakan Bahasa Melayu tetapi rata-rata kebanyakan blog Brunei adalah dalam Bahasa Inggeris. Tiga 'blog' Melayu Brunei yang perlu dijadikan sebagai contoh yang saya lawat jika ada kelapangan ialah, dan

Jika kitani perhatikan ketiga blog ini, Bahasa Melayu boleh digunakan sebagai bahasa perantaraan di dalam penggunaan blog. Malah dengan rosapadena, bukan sahaja blog boleh ditulis dengan Bahasa Melayu rasmi tetapi Bahasa Melayu Brunei juga boleh digunakan. Penggunaan bahasa dan cara penulisan yang digunakan oleh rosapadena bagi saya merupakan satu perkara yang baru dan jika boleh saya gunakan satu bahasa Inggeris untuk memberikan pandangan bagi blog beliau, ialah 'refreshing'.

Mulai hari ini, kalau dapat, saya seru kepada semua teman-teman 'blogger' - cubalah untuk memberikan sekurang-kurangnya sehari seminggu, kalau dapatlah, kalau nda jua dapat, seperti kata Orang Brunei, cubalah bila-bila ada masa mengizinkan untuk menulis isian harian blog abiskita dalam bahasa ibunda kitani.

Nota: Gambar pinjaman di atas adalah hakmilik Terima kasih Cuboiart.

Friday, April 13, 2007

A Bruneian Trapped in Tokyo

I am still in Tokyo. Yesterday during lunch time, we were caught in this massive traffic jam when we were heading back towards the hotel. We already heard the loudspeakers blaring whatever messages the demonstrators wanted to shout out during our meeting. Not being a nihon speaker we did not know what they wanted. When we came out, we saw an interesting sight of demonstrators with multicoloured banners demonstrating against the visit of the Chinese Premier to Japan.

I did not dare take any photographs and the positioning was wrong. The last time I took a photograph of demonstrators was in Islamabad, Pakistan and a whole group of demonstrators chase the taxi I was in. We were wondering why protest at the MOF Building until the driver told us that the MFA Building was across the street, so they were aiming their protests there. Throughout the whole day, there were lots and lots of policemen. We even met up with the whole entourage on the road on our way back from dinner.

For those wondering how yesterday's negotiations went - it went much better than we thought but today will be clincher whether we can persuade them to start a formal negotiation. The current meeting count only as informal negotiation to see whether we have the basis to go for a formal negotiation.

For today, just some interesting sights of Tokyo. Nothing spectacular - big concrete cities have a tendency to look alike and I would have to be anakbrunei or bruneiforever to see the unusual aspects - alas, a skill I don't have.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Bruneian in Wet Tokyo

Our negotiations don't start till this morning. It ain't going to be easy - that much we know. So we spent the whole morning yesterday strategising and preparing at the hotel. It was late afternoon before we managed to get some free time but it was raining - so just soggy photographs of Tokyo. Forget about compositioning - just quick snaps from the car.

We tried out the sashimi (the raw fish) for our 3 pm lunch and it was cameras out for everyone taking photos of the food before swallowing it down. We had unagi (eel) the day before.

In the evening after an enjoyable dinner with the Brunei Ambassador, we went out for a drive to see Tokyo at night. All blurry photographs taken from the moving car using my compact FujiFilm f30 using natural lighting only.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Bruneian in Japan

My apologies for those expecting something on Brunei - come back on Monday. For the next few days, travel blog photos from Tokyo. Today, place photographs from Ameyoko, the gardens of Imperial Palace, Akasaka Temple and Asakusa.

Imperal Palace Garden

Traditional Shops along Asakusa Temple

Ameyoko Market in Ueno

Asakasa Temple

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Circumcision in Old Brunei

In Brunei and in Indonesia, circumcision is known as bersunat but in Malaysia, berkhatan. In the earlier days, bersunat is considered as the mark of a true Muslim. Immediately just before the circumcision, the boy would be asked to recite the ‘kalimah sahadat’ which is the recitation every Muslims or would be Muslims undertake to declare themselves as Muslims – thus by saying it just before the circumcision, made him a true Muslim.

Bersunat or circumcision is the procedure that removes the foreskin of the boy's organ. The word circumcision comes from two Latin words which mean to 'cut around'. A variation to this 'cut around' was practiced in one Brunei community more than 50 years ago. During the ceremony the ‘penyunat’ (the circumcision master) would go to the base of the organ and snip a little nerve. The nerve connects to the foreskin and the foreskin as a result would ‘pull back’ – thus ‘circumcising’ the boy. You still reached the objective of not having the foreskin at the tip.

As to the ceremonies, there are variations as to when it is held or how elaborate it is. In some cases, the boys would be required to take a bath where someone would pour scented water over the boys. In more elaborate cases, the boys would be undergoing a ‘lulut’ where one would be scrubbed with scented powder and water. After the ceremony, the boys would be dressed nicely. This would mean the normal ‘baju melayu’ with a ‘kain pelikat’. The boys might also wear songkoks complete with a decorative motif known as ‘kopiah berpisnin’. They would be led to sit straddling a banana tree trunk - the trunk supposedly makes one feel cool. In Kampong Ayer, the boys would be sitting in the lap of their fathers or someone elderly. On some of their foreheads would be a white smear – a white powdered lulut being placed on there.

The penyunat would use a ‘sembilu’ which is sharpened bamboo but as time progresses, a sharpened knife was used. The knife generally is a folding type. There is no anesthetic. The circumcision would be done raw and the boys are held by others so that they can not move. The skin would be stretched out and cut away. The knife is very sharp and by the time the deed was done, there was hardly time to feel pain. Though there have been cases where the boys screamed their heads off. In Temburong, the pulled skin will be held by a piece of split bamboo before being cut off.

The cut would be bandaged straight away for it to heal in about a month. Sometimes the wound is bound together with powdered coffee beans and some with sugar too to stop the bleeding. The coffee beans supposedly have certain ability to make the wound heal faster. In most cases, the bandages are left on and will only be taken off in a few days time. For the Kampong Ayer boys, they would be asked to go into the water and the bandages would come off there.

The cut skins are dealt differently. For those on land, they will be buried in a piece of cloth with or without ashes. For Kampong Ayer, the skins will be dropped into an ash filled coconut shell and floated down the river. Why ashes? In those days, there many instances of people suffering from inability to urinate and this is said to be due to their skins being ‘disturbed’ by pontianaks. So one way to avoid this, would be to keep them in ashes. After the circumcision or before the circumcision, there would be a berzikir ceremony. For the boys, it would be particularly painful as they have to walk around the berzikir crowd getting ‘blessed’ by them.

As usual there were many pantang larangs. One particular one which stands out is not to have ladies walk in front of the boys. This one is more practical than the others. In those days, most boys would be around 15 years old before they undergo their circumcision. And at 15, they are fairly mature and the last thing you want to do when you are recovering with a wound to your sensitive area is to have stimulating thoughts.

PS. This is part of the article that I wrote for The Brunei Times which appeared on 24th March 2007. E-mail me if anyone is interested in the full article in pdf format.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Brunei in the 2nd World War

I didn't realise there was a lot of interest in the WWII photographs I posted recently. I have a number of articles about the war and the invasion of Brunei. The one I found interesting was in the Time Magazine issue of June 25th, 1945, where an article entitled "Walkover on Borneo" described how the Allied Forces liberated the island of Borneo from the Japanese. The most interesting bit is the one that described Brunei Town. You can read the original at this link. The article is reproduced below (with the italics mine):

--- "Quote" --- Two hundred warships of the U.S. Seventh Fleet stood in to Brunei Bay in northwest Borneo. Off went the landing craft, with less than a division of hardbitten, hard-swearing Australian veterans. One week later, with spectacular ease, they had conquered a major harbor, three airfields, three towns, two islands and a peninsula. With minor losses, they had given General Douglas MacArthur a military base midway between Manila and Singapore, virtually choked off the South China Sea and opened new fields for Allied bombers. After two visits ashore, the General exulted: "Rarely was such a strategic prize obtained at such a low cost of lives."

Aside from the spongy swamps, thick jungles and steaming heat, it was a walk over for the "rats of Tobruk"—Australia's 9th Division. The Japanese, as usual, left only rearguards around the beach, and pulled back into the mountains and jungles with 2,000 to 5,000 troops. On the first day the Aussies found only 61 enemy dead and took one prisoner; they lost not a single man in the landing.

Island & Thumb. One force—including mechanized Commandos—took Labuan Island, key to the harbor, from a Japanese garrison of 500. With it came Victoria town, two airfields, 4,000 Japanese bombs, rubber and coconut plantations. Stronger groups pounced on the thumb of land that poked up into the bay from the mainland —and on its satellite, Muara Island. They went in standing up and quickly took the hamlet of Brooketon, where tun-bellied Major General George Frederick Wootten, 250-lb. division commander, set up headquarters. Then they moved into Brunei town—a dismal conglomeration of dilapidated native shacks built on stilts over mud flats. Natives call it Daru'l Salam—Abode of Peace—and it showed little fight.

Ahead lay coastal Tutong, 25 miles away, then the Seria-Miri oilfields, a rich prize 25 miles further. But beetle-browed Lieut. General Sir Leslie Morshead, tactical commander, was not deceived by the easy beginning. Ahead lay rivers, mountains, swamps and lurking Japanese. Predicted Morshead: "A tedious and arduous campaign—the real fighting is yet to come." --- "unquote" ---

For those still wanting to see old photographs, here is the second collection of photographs of the Australian Army which came to Brunei, landing at the beach off Muara and then marching to Brunei Town - a dismal conglomeration of dilapidated native shacks built on stitls over mud flats. How sad. I will post a third collection of another 6 photographs in the future.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Modern Circumcision in Brunei

My just turned 7 years old son was circumcised during the school holidays. He was scheduled to have done it together with a few of his cousins and anak buah last December but missed it as we were on holiday in KL. So this March, we had ample time to prepare. There is normally a fairly long queue at RIPAS, so it is best to book a time early. There are also a couple of private clinics which offer the circumcision services.

The circumcision procedure of today is very much different than that when it was done to me about 30 odd years ago. Today, we are given choices as to whether we want it done using a General Anaesthetics (GA) or a local one (LA). For a GA, one has to go a couple of days earlier to meet the anaesthetist. Generally this is available to younger children but some of the older more scared kids may ask for it. According to the Doctor, some 25% of boys chose GA. For those who wants to know the difference, the GA sends the boys to sleep but with the LA, they are awake.

So on the actual day, we were asked to come at 6.30 in the morning to the Children's Ward and my son was assigned a bed. The other kids who were supposed to go for circumcision mostly didn't arrive until about 7.30. By 8.30, the children were all wheeled in to the operating theatre. My son had a change of heart. He was asked by the anaesthetist whether he still wanted to go for a GA as the boy in the queue in front of him, slightly younger had opted for an LA. He was told that if he had the LA, he could have his meal earlier (he had fasted from the night before). If he went for the GA, it would be later in the afternoon before he can break his fast.

After consulting my wife, he opted for the LA and went through the operation wide awake and full of curiousity. My wife was allowed to wait and go into the operation room and the staff were very friendly. She managed to take a couple of photographs but was too scared to take a photo of the actual operation itself. After the circumcision, the staff gave a piece of paper with lots of instructions. I didn't remember being told what to do when I had mine. Anyway, it took about a few days for my son to recover from the circumcision.

Thank you to the friendly and professional doctors and nursing staff at RIPAS.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Memukun - Brunei's Unique Tradition

I was staring at the computer last night raking my brain for today's topic when I heard someone being interviewed about 'memukun' on Rangkaian Nasional. Rangkaian Nasional has a program where people can actually sing through their telephones - a duet with another singer in the studio. I remembered in the 1980s when 'memukun' first appeared on national radio. A number of people who were trading at the tamu recorded the nightly programs and played their casettes at top volume. You could not escape from it if you are there. Anyway, I thought the interview is worthwhile reproducing here.

One of the unique feature of Brunei's culture is 'memukun'. It is fairly hard to describe unless one has actually listened to it. I read on BB that it has been described as 'quatrain singing to the tune of traditional hand drums'. Memukun is very Bruneian where a group of people (usually elderly) will sing accompanied by gulingtangan or a small drum and sometimes accompanied with a dance. Normally it is a duet with one gender 'selling' pantun verses to the other 'gender'. The other side is supposed to reply.

According to the interview, in the 1960s and 1970s memukun is very popular during weddings and can go on from evening until dawn the next day - memukun kesiangan or mukun menyubuh. Though there are still households especially in Kampong Ayer where memukun continued to be popular. But surprisingly memukun is not of Bruneian origin. In the 1960s, the experts of memukun were from Limbang. The good ones were invited to Brunei and paid a token sum to memukun at wedding ceremonies.

Memukun was carried out by having two groups of people. One group made up of female and the other, male though two groups of the same gender singing to each other is also not unusual. The two groups are separated by kain batik strung across the two groups. The two then take turns at selling their pantuns. If the lady is single and the male is single, normally if they are able to sell pantuns successfully, according to the interviewee, the chances of them marrying each other is very high indeed. So memukun is also part of a mating ritual of getting to know each other. To me that is not surprising. If you listen to some of the verses, they can be very suggestive indeed.

Memukun is always accompanied by a musical instrument. Sometimes the accordian or the guitar or the full guling tangan set. The simplest is just a 'gendang' or drum. The drum can be made up of goat's skin or cow's skin. I didn't quite catch this bit of the interview but it can also be made up of a certain kind of bark.

I came across someone posting a memukun mp3 in the past but I was not able to find that anymore. There is a memukun music on youtube which shows a group of our elderly folks dancing to the music but I have not seen a memukun video on its own just yet. If you want something very Bruneian, memukun it is. Nobody else have it now. Just us in Brunei.
PS. Credit to both photographs to s@s at metallichick who took the photographs when she and her officers went to Kampong Ayer during last year's Hari Raya. She wrote about memukun among other things.

Inspirational Quotes